A state agency is investigating outgoing Bibb County school Superintendent Sharon Patterson and two top administrators for failing to report a fourth allegation of employee misconduct.
In 2006, the school system investigated its school bus transportation director, Frank Tompkins, after complaints that he had mistreated his employees, according to school system documents.
Among the allegations were that he had discriminated against women and that employees did chores at his home — sometimes on the clock. There was also a question whether fundraising money had been handled appropriately, school documents show.
At the time, the school system did not report the case to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which issues teacher certificates and holds educators accountable for ethics lapses and criminal violations.
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Now, the PSC is investigating whether the case — as well as three other ethics complaints of alleged Bibb school employee misconduct — should have been reported by the school system’s leaders.
“We are looking into quite a few incidents (from Bibb) to determine if they were investigated and should have been reported,” said Gary Walker, director of the PSC’s ethics division. He said he hopes his office will complete its investigation sometime next month.
The ethics investigation has also caught the attention of the agency that accredits school systems, although officials with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools say they are simply “monitoring” Bibb County.
“We have had no formal complaints,” said Mark Elgart, the CEO of AdvancED, which issues SACS accreditation. “We are aware of the situation (in Bibb) and following the matter.”
The initial PSC investigation began after two Bibb school board members filed an ethics complaint in September against Patterson, Deputy Superintendent Sylvia McGee and Assistant Superintendent Mack Bullard.
According to the original complaint, the three administrators investigated two Bibb County principals last year for misconduct — one for having an affair with a graduation coach and one for choking a student — but failed to report the incidents to the PSC.
After the complaint, the school system did report one of the cases.
Soon after a Telegraph inquiry last month, a third case was added to the PSC’s investigations. It involved another principal investigated and disciplined by the Bibb school system for allegedly mishandling federal funding in 2008, but the case went unreported to the state agency.
The commission requires that any cases of suspected educator misconduct be reported to it within 90 days.
Walker said there could be more than four cases that the PSC is now reviewing, but he could not provide an exact number because not all Bibb educators’ names have been logged into a state database while the state investigates.
Since the initial allegation, the school board has approved a settlement with Patterson to buy out her contract for $198,000. Last week, McGee, who is also under investigation, was named the short-term interim superintendent to lead the district.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner
Tompkins, a former school principal, was the school system’s transportation director in 2006. That year, one of his subordinates accused him of “general mistreatment” and of creating a “hostile workplace.” Complaints by the employee, a bus route supervisor, led the school system’s central office to interview other employees in the transportation department, according to school system documents.
The employee complained that Tompkins was hostile toward female workers.
She also contended that while Tompkins was on a four-month leave from his job for knee replacement surgery and subsequent recovery, she bought and took breakfast, lunch and dinner to him at his home every day.
“It occurred on the clock and off the clock,” she said in the school system’s investigative report.
The report also said she took her boss to his doctor’s appointments and paid his prescription copayments, as well as “thousands” of dollars of her own money over the years to buy trophies and gifts for bus driver awards and banquets.
In the report, the route supervisor said she felt bad for Tompkins and didn’t think he had any other help.
Another employee said she took food to Tompkins at his home a few times. That employee called it a “ministry” to help people when they are sick.
But a male employee interviewed by a school investigator suggested that Tompkins may have asked for help. He said Tompkins “would get a male to take him to the doctor.”
The transportation workers said that for the most part, they were not paid for their help. After submitting receipts for reimbursement to Tompkins, the route supervisor said she was reimbursed $100.
A school bus dispatcher also told a school investigator that she did household chores at Tompkins’ house while he was recovering from surgery.
“When he was sick, I washed his clothes and cleaned his house,” the dispatcher said. The investigation report didn’t say whether that work was on the clock.
A school bus maintenance worker also said he did work for Tompkins. The worker said he built a ramp for Tompkins at his home on weekends and evenings, painted it, then enclosed his deck into a room, all at a discounted price. The worker said he quoted Tompkins a price of $2,800 for the work. Tompkins had paid just $800 at the time of the investigation, records showed.
During the school system’s probe, when the system’s investigator asked Tompkins if he felt it was appropriate to have a subordinate clean his house and do his personal laundry, Tompkins responded: “If she desires to do it.”
The investigator then asked him if the route supervisor took him to any doctor’s sessions during the work day.
Tompkins said, “Yes, but then I started driving myself.”
He said he did not reimburse the supervisor, and that may not have been appropriate, according to the investigation documents.
“No, it’s not appropriate if you want to go by the letter of the law,” Tompkins said in the report.
He maintained that he wasn’t using subordinates for personal gain.
Reassigned after allegations
In its findings, the school system said there was no evidence that Tompkins intended to discriminate, but it did not address the issue of employees working at his home or how $6,000 in fundraising money had been handled. One school official said the money simply may not have been tracked well.
School system attorneys said there were no reprimands on file concerning Tompkins. As a result of the central office investigation, however, Tompkins was reassigned in 2006 from the transportation department to a job in the school system’s human resources office. He retired from the system in 2007.
After that, the system hired him to do consulting work. In 2008, Tompkins earned about $9,000, often making $45 an hour, for training substitute teachers, according to school documents.
In December, the school system also hired him to work at a teacher recruitment fair in Valdosta.
Asked recently about the allegations, Tompkins said he didn’t want to comment about the pending PSC investigation that involves him.
Last week, McGee addressed the case, saying that the school system’s findings did not lead to a definite result.
“In the ensuing (central office) investigation, these allegations (against Tompkins) were determined to be inconclusive,” she said. “It was inconclusive that these tasks were anything more than people taking care of each other. It did not appear that these duties were assigned as directed by Mr. Tompkins.
“In regards to this being on work time, employees in the transportation department don’t necessarily work a typical 9-to-5 work day. So a supervisor running an errand during the day does not indicate it was on work time.”
McGee went on to say: “However, it did come to our attention during the investigation of other issues within the department, specifically as it relates to the culture and climate among the employees” that needed to be corrected.
She also said the school system did not think the case merited being turned over to the PSC in 2006.
Patterson has called the ethics allegations against her “meritless,” and she said she expects to be cleared of any wrongdoing.
In discussing her departure, Patterson said the PSC investigation had caused too much of a distraction for the school system, and it was time to focus on clearing her name. Her last day of work is scheduled for Feb. 26.
If the PSC finds Patterson, McGee and Bullard to have violated ethics standards, they could face sanctions ranging from a warning to a suspended or revoked teaching license.
The PSC says it will still issue a finding after its investigation, even if Patterson has already retired.
“Once we start the investigation, we complete it,” Walker said. “We have revoked (educators’ licenses) who have retired.”
School board President Gary Bechtel said at this point the school system’s central office may be reviewing its old employee investigation files to see if any cases that needed to be reported to the PSC may have slipped through the cracks.
“I think the administration is at this point looking at what has and what hasn’t been reported,” he said. “All of this attention has made it clear this is serious and needs to be handled expeditiously.”
To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.